Republicans love to claim that Martin Luther King was a Republican. They’ve even taken out billboards around the country saying so. Not only is there no evidence for this, there’s considerable evidence against it. By the end of his life, he was a loud and persistent critic of the Republican party.
There may well have been times earlier in his life when he supported the Republican party, but by 1964, when the Dixiecrats abandoned the Democratic party in response to the passage of the Civil Rights Act and became Republicans, he recognized that the GOP had become the party that gave racists like Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms their home. Here’s what he wrote in his autobiography about the 1964 Republican candidate and platform:
The Republican Party geared its appeal and program to racism, reaction, and extremism. All people of goodwill viewed with alarm and concern the frenzied wedding at the Cow Palace of the KKK with the radical right. The “best man” at this ceremony was a senator whose voting record, philosophy, and program were anathema to all the hard-won achievements of the past decade.
It was both unfortunate and disastrous that the Republican Party nominated Barry Goldwater as its candidate for President of the United States. In foreign policy Mr. Goldwater advocated a narrow nationalism, a crippling isolationism, and a trigger-happy attitude that could plunge the whole world into the dark abyss of annihilation. On social and economic issues, Mr. Goldwater represented an unrealistic conservatism that was totally out of touch with the realities of the twentieth century. The issue of poverty compelled the attention of all citizens of our country. Senator Goldwater had neither the concern nor the comprehension necessary to grapple with this problem of poverty in the fashion that the historical moment dictated. On the urgent issue of civil rights, Senator Goldwater represented a philosophy that was morally indefensible and socially suicidal. While not himself a racist, Mr. Goldwater articulated a philosophy which gave aid and comfort to the racist. His candidacy and philosophy would serve as an umbrella under which extremists of all stripes would stand. In the light of these facts and because of my love for America, I had no alternative but to urge every Negro and white person of goodwill to vote against Mr. Goldwater and to withdraw support from any Republican candidate that did not publicly disassociate himself from Senator Goldwater and his philosophy.
While I had followed a policy of not endorsing political candidates, I felt that the prospect of Senator Goldwater being President of the United States so threatened the health, morality, and survival of our nation, that I could not in good conscience fail to take a stand against what he represented.
And what he had to say about Ronald Reagan, then just beginning his political career:
Now what are some of the domestic consequences of the war in Vietnam? It has made the Great Society a myth and replaced it with a troubled and confused society. The war has strengthened domestic reaction. It has given the extreme right, the anti-labor, anti-Negro, and anti-humanistic forces a weapon of spurious patriotism to galvanize its supporters into reaching for power, right up to the White House. It hopes to use national frustration to take control and restore the America of social insecurity and power for the privileged. When a Hollywood performer, lacking distinction even as an actor can become a leading war hawk candidate for the Presidency, only the irrationalities induced by a war psychosis can explain such a melancholy turn of events.
These efforts to turn King into a Republican, or worse a conservative, are appallingly dishonest — all the more so coming from the same people who savaged him as a communist during his lifetime. King was a pacifist, a democratic socialist, a staunch advocate for labor rights and a strong welfare system, an advocate for expanded family planning, and pretty much every other position that is anathema to the Republican party.